Last night I facilitated a Pet Loss Support Group at Dupont Veterinary Clinic and wanted to share some of the material with you. Although I offered to host it two months ago, I felt nervous as the date approached. Would I do a good job? Would I hold it together considering I’m still mourning the loss of Louis four years later? Would the participants get what they needed? Would my veterinary social work training be enough material?
Arriving 20 minutes early, I settled into the room to review my notes, take deep breaths, and set a clock within view to monitor the group’s pace.
Once the participants arrived, I welcomed them, shared the agenda, set group guidelines, and gave a brief introduction into the challenge of pet loss. Namely, it’s often labeled “disenfranchised grief” as it’s minimized/not openly acknowledged by society, not publicly mourned or socially supported, and there’s no recognized way of grieving.
Also, I highlighted that the loss of a pet is so intense because they’re part of our socialization: daily schedules, cognitive stimulation, exercise, physical security, sense of purpose, identity, serve as reminders of previous relationships/identities, and come with no baggage (you know, we’re not still holding on to what they said when we were six).
Then the group introduced themselves and shared their stories. Afterwards we honed in on a few themes that tend to arise–guilt, feeling irritable, upset at those close to them who don’t get it or grieve differently, feeling tired, unable to focus at work, to get a new pet or not.
Next, I shared an assortment of coping strategies to help keep their continuing bond (find a way to stay connected): Write a letter. Tell a story. Write favorite memories. Create a scrapbook or online photo album. Draw a picture. Display their favorite toys, collars, or clips of hair or braided tails. Create a memory box or memory garden (tree or flowers). Donate some of pet’s items or $ to a shelter in pet’s memory. Hold a memorial service. Clay print their paws. And more!
Whew, heavy stuff. After our goodbyes, I walked home with a full heart and gratitude. Grateful for hearing their stories. Grateful for the love our furry beings give us and allow us to offer. Grateful that they found the experience helpful. Grateful for the opportunity to facilitate this work. And grateful for my three rescue pugs (and one rescue kitty) who give me so much.
If you or someone you know is dealing with the loss of a pet, here are some additional resources: